Capitol Theatre, April 2


Given that it’s hard to take any of the characters in Grease too seriously, director Luke Joslin has a new solution: don’t try to disguise their cartoonishness; play it up! Make the whole show like a Roy Lichenstein painting that’s sprung to life, and, as well as sprouting cliches and crying, it sings and dances for good measure.

Let’s face it: the show needed something to justify another revival because – between you and me – it’s actually not that good. A bunch of cartoon characters carry on about that famously tautological malaise, confused teenaged love, then pester us with some ordinary songs and reward us with a few that are crackers. The reason the film became such a phenomenon was down to the singular chemistry between Olivia Newton-John and John and Travolta. Have you ever seen that chemistry replicated in a stage production? No.

Annelisa Hall and Joseph Spanti. Top: Marcia Hines. Photos: Jeff Busby.

In casting the show, Joslin as wisely chose youth over stardom, and while he hasn’t been repaid as handsomely as director Francesca Zambello was in pursuing the same policy in the current West Side Story, his production certainly has fizz. The odd thing is that it doesn’t really emanate from Joseph Spanti as Zuko or Annelise Hall as Sandy. It comes from the comedy, designer James Brown’s eye-candy costumes, the sharp-edged realisations of Eric Giancola’s choreography and the top-shelf band directed by Dave Skelton.

Let’s pause there to observe that this show is now a rarity in local commercial musical theatre, being an all-Australian production, rather than one of those cookie-cutter franchises now dominating the world’s theatres. So hats off to producers John Frost and Crossroads Live for having the faith and courage to do this.

They believed in the show, and we have to believe in the characters. I don’t mean that we must believe these two-dimensional creatures are real, but they must entice us into their cartoon fantasy land, and when they do actually dare to mean something, they must make us feel it. Right in the sternum.

Cristina D’Agostino and Joseph Spanti. Photos: Jeff Busby.

Passing the sternum text with flying colours is Mackenzie Dunn as Rizo. Dunn grabs There Are Worse Things I Could Do and turns the show on its head. Rather than watching caricatures singing of their half-baked love, she suddenly pulls the whole room around her, and makes us care. The applause at the end of the song kept on going until it had punched a big pause in the show, as the entire audience expressed its wonder, admiration and sheer relief that we’d been made to feel.

Other reasons for going are to hear Marcia Hines in commanding voice as Teen Angel, leading a brilliantly staged scene in which the members of her retinue look like a mirror ball has collided with an overflowing pyramid of champagne flutes.

Among the rest, Briana Bishop’s Marty, Patti Newton’s Miss Lynch, Catty Hamilton’s Frenchy, Cristina D’Agostino’s Cha Cha and Keanu Gonzalez’s Kenickie all shine to varying degrees, but, Spanti’s Zuko and Hall’s Sandy are just a little flat. With Hall, it feels like she’s purposely rendered Sandy too much of a non-entity to maximise the contrast with her Act Two makeover – which beckons the show’s best song: You’re the One that I Want. What we actually want is more tension in the conflict between Zuko and Sandy from the start, so you don’t just sit there admiring the costumes and the dancing, giggling at the Pink Ladies and waiting for the stronger songs.

Until June 1.